As the shift reigns supreme, Rockies’ hitters adhere to a similar approach

For major leaguers, it’s as new-age of a hitting conundrum as conundrums come. When the opposing defense moves infielders from their traditional spots and into a batter’s hottest spray zones, is it better to stick to the usual approach or adjust your swing in an attempt to beat the shift?

It’s a question that made its first prominent appearance in the baseball consciousness in the 1940s, when teams placed six fielders on the right side of second base in the “Ted Williams Shift” that was designed to limit The Splendid Splinter’s ability to pull the baseball.

And since Tampa Bay reintroduced the shift to the modern game in 2007, the controversial tactic has quickly risen in popularity as teams keep leaning on Sabermetrics for even the slightest advantages.

Over the past decade, the number of shifts has increased about 900 percent and they continue to climb this year — per Statcast, there were 22,157 total shifts in 2017 and the league is on pace to easily surpass that number in 2018, with 17,872 shifts already employed in 17.3 percent of all at-bats.

In the Rockies’ lineup, two of the team’s top left-handed hitters see the shift regularly. Carlos Gonzalez ranks 14th in the National League with 61.6 percent of his at-bats coming against the shift this year, and he’s followed by fellow outfielder Charlie Blackmon‘s 25.3 percent clip.

Bud Black said the shift is always top-of-mind in discussions between hitters and the coaching staff in terms of tactics against it, while defensively, Colorado ranks sixth in the N.L. — and in the top half of all of baseball — with an 18.3 percent shift rate this season.

“We talk about (the shift) a lot with CarGo and Charlie, about how we want to attack a certain series or attack a certain team that does always shift against those players,” Black said.

The Colorado skipper isn’t on the same page as MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on the issue of shifting. Manfred has repeatedly expressed his desire to legislate the strategy, noting at the June owner’s meetings in New York City that “I think we want to proceed judiciously, but I also think we want to proceed” with regulating the shift.

“I don’t think there should be a ban on shifts … I’m against telling a team where they have to play,” Black said. “What’s going to happen, hopefully, is there will be young players coming up who will learn to beat the shift. There are players now who are trying to beat the shift.”

But beating the shift isn’t necessarily the philosophy for Colorado’s most-affected hitters, especially considering the diminished speed of 32-year-olds Gonzalez and Blackmon, which has downsized their ability to bunt for a base hit.

Gonzalez flatly said “I’m not a bunter,” but qualified that statement by noting how he got around 10 base-hit bunts a season — sans shift — as a younger player in Oakland. But now with the shift, opposing third basemen loiter around the bag until Gonzalez gets one strike, limiting his bunting opportunities.

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